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South Korea Table of Contents

South Korea


The growth of the industrial sector was the principal stimulus to economic development. In 1987 manufacturing industries accounted for approximately 30 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP--see Glossary) and 25 percent of the work force. Benefiting from strong domestic encouragement and foreign aid, Seoul's industrialists introduced modern technologies into outmoded or newly built facilities at a rapid pace, increased the production of commodities--especially those for sale in foreign markets--and plowed the proceeds back into further industrial expansion. As a result, industry altered the country's landscape, drawing millions of laborers to urban manufacturing centers.

A downturn in the South Korean economy in 1989 spurred by a sharp decrease in exports and foreign orders caused deep concern in the industrial sector. Ministry of Trade and Industry analysts stated that poor export performance resulted from structural problems embedded in the nation's economy, including an overly strong won, increased wages and high labor costs, frequent strikes, and high interest rates. The result was an increase in inventories and severe cutbacks in production at a number of electronics, automobile, and textile manufacturers, as well as at the smaller firms that supplied the parts. Factory automation systems were introduced to reduce dependence on labor, to boost productivity with a much smaller work force, and to improve competitiveness. It was estimated that over two-thirds of South Korea's manufacturers spent over half of the funds available for facility investments on automation.

In 1990 South Korean manufacturers planned a significant shift in future production plans toward high-technology industries. In June 1989, panels of government officials, scholars, and business leaders held planning sessions on the production of such goods as new materials, mechatronics-- including industrial robotics-- bioengineering, microelectronics, fine chemistry, and aerospace. This shift in emphasis, however, did not mean an immediate decline in heavy industries such as automobile and ship production, which had dominated the economy in the 1980s.

Except for mining, most industries were located in the urban areas of the northwest and southeast. Heavy industries generally were located in the south of the country. Factories in Seoul contributed over 25 percent of all manufacturing value-added in 1978; taken together with factories in surrounding Kyonggi Province, factories in the Seoul area produced 46 percent of all manufacturing that year. Factories in Seoul and Kyonggi Province employed 48 percent of the nation's 2.1 million factory workers.

Data as of June 1990